What is Ankle Arthritis?

Arthritis is caused by wear of the cartilage that covers the bones around joints. Cartilage provides a nice smooth surface to allow mobility. When this cartilage wears out, the bone eventually becomes exposed. The condition can affect any joint in the body. As in other joints, arthritis of the ankle results in pain, swelling and joint enlargement.

The condition can range from mild to very severe. When the cartilage shows some minor wear in the joint, the arthritis is considered mild. Eventually, the cartilage can completely wear out and the underlying bone becomes exposed. When this occurs, the arthritis is considered severe.

Causes?

There are many causes of arthritis. Trauma to a joint, such as a fracture, can damage cartilage and eventually lead to arthritis. A prior infection in the joint can eventually lead to cartilage damage that causes arthritis. There are many inflammatory conditions that cause arthritis. Some of these conditions include: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and lupus. There is certainly a hereditary component to arthritis as well meaning it can run in families. Excessive weight (obesity) is frequently responsible for the development of lower body arthritis.

In many cases, there is no obvious cause to explain the arthritis. This is called “idiopathic arthritis”.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of arthritis can generally be made after a clinical examination by a physician and plain X-rays. A basic X-ray can usually demonstrate how much of the cartilage has been lost. The patient should be standing up when the X-rays are taken to more accurately determine the degree of arthritis. An MRI scan is not generally useful in making the diagnosis of arthritis.

x-ray

The picture on the left shows a normal ankle with space between the bones. On the right the cartilage is lost due to arthritis. As a result there is no space between the bones.


Surgical Treatments

When non-surgical methods fail, surgery can be considered. Ankle arthroscopy may be useful in early stages of arthritis to remove impinging bone or by removing loose bodies. In more advanced stages of arthritis there are two basic options: ankle fusion and ankle replacement. There are other less common surgical options but the indications for those surgeries are rare.